Zenith Real Estate Services specializes in providing project leasing and management services to tenants primarily in the Woodlands and the Westchase areas of Texas. Lena Nasser has been managing Zenith’s properties on and off for the last ten years. Lena’s family purchased their first property in the 1990’s and has expanded by investing in shopping centers, apartment, and office buildings. The success of the company has been through preserving key relationships with tenants and being receptive towards many different corporate cultures- keeping in mind Houston is the third largest city in the United States. I had the chance to sit down with Lena Nasser to get a sense of how the company has become so successful and what we could expect in the future. Lena Nasser grew up in Hong Kong into a family that was prominent in the banking industry but is now mainly focused on real estate.
Michael: From east to west, what do you identify most closely with?
Lena Nasser: “I always envisioned being back in Asia and have a lot of respect for the culture in terms of medical and practical thought. I’ve always identified with Asian culture and feel at home in the east. My love for Asia is timeless. I find the Far East invigorating and have traveled back numerous times since my family left in the nineties. Although I only visit Hong Kong again as a tourist now, I never feel like a stranger in the so densely populated city. I haven’t moved back but will continue to visit and am open to the thought of living there again in the future. Even in Texas, the Asian community remains a significant influence on business aspects in Houston in a variety of fields.
Michael: Do you have any regrets in moving from Hong Kong to Houston?
Lena Nasser: Honestly, home is where you make it. I don’t think there’s any point in having regrets. Everything in hindsight is 20/20. In terms of living, my parents never vocalized regret in leaving Hong Kong, but I was in disbelief to see the value of the home we left behind in Repulse Bay, a gated community of luxury detached homes with private terraces overlooking the sea. Not only can you not find a view like that anywhere in Texas, but the house value has increased so tremendously almost tenfold. I can only compare it to something like the bitcoin frenzy although this real estate has genuine market backing. There’s a lack of land that’s lead to the multitude of skyscrapers in their skyline, but in Texas land is cheap and readily available.”
Michael: In fact, Hong Kong was recently ranked the most expensive housing market in the world for the seventh consecutive year, according to the annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey. I was surprised to see what would lead a family to move away from such a dynamic cultured city.
Lena Nasser: “My family left due to the ‘Handover’- the significant event of Britain returning Hong Kong to the Chinese government in July of 1997. It was a time of uncertainty vocalized in the news constantly even before I was born. My parents didn’t want to take any chances whilst we were all young children at the time. Nobody knew exactly what would happen- many families left in hopes of seeking stability.”
Although she left with fond memories of Asia, moving to Houston proved to be another gold mine. The Nasser family purchased their first office building, named Silverstone, which is still the main location for the Zenith Group and in time strategically sold and purchased properties in Houston and the Woodland areas of Texas.
Michael: How have the projects compared in terms of business and productivity?
Lena Nasser: “The properties in the Woodlands really proved to be a God-send at the time the market in the US took a toll. Houston had proven to be one of those cities that were not as affected due to the rich oil market. Many large oil companies such as Exxon relocated their headquarters to the Woodlands causing other companies to follow. We have three office buildings in prime locations in the Woodlands and they all reached occupancy levels of 90% and higher after Exxon made the announcement while prime real estate in Houston was suffering.”
Houston has proven to be a safe city. Even in light of recent oil decline in the last two years, other industries like medical have maintained corporate structure and Houston is prided for its world renown medical center.
Even the University of Houston has gained attention for its impetus in the education field. Along the way, in 2011, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, a national education organization, moved UH into its highest tier of research universities.
Michael: What led you to study business?
Lena Nasser: “Naturally falling in my father’s footsteps, I opted for a dual degree in management and finance. I wanted to receive a degree from the University of Houston and also gain some international experience. The business school, Bauer has been ranked among the top business schools in the US and is considered among the top 60 worldwide. I did some semesters abroad but graduated with top honors along with a scholarship which came in handy since my parents had set aside a college fund that I then used to invest in the stock market and crypto currency trading.”
Lena made a wise decision to study abroad as well. Although many in her class experienced culture shock, she had already been to a multitude of countries.
Lena Nasser: “My father’s side of the family is from East Africa- from an island called Zanzibar off the coast of Kenya. I had the chance to visit in 2008 and have loved safaris and animal preserves ever since. Africa is such a large continent with so much diversity in language and history. I chose to study abroad in Egypt and have always been intrigued with Arab culture and the persistence and persuasion of Egyptians in the marketplace would be my first business experience in bartering market goods. A lot is to be learned from Egyptian culture- it’s where I perfected my poker face.“
With the love of travel and politics, Lena completed her Masters in international relations at the Geneva school of Diplomacy.
Michael: How has traveling influenced your career with Zenith?
Lena Nasser: “It only made sense at the time since I wanted to work in the United Nations. I did an internship there and met many contacts. Geneva is a melting pot of cultures. My father grew up in Malaga and has always encouraged me to visit as many places as possible. This has helped me to understand many different corporate cultures in the work place and to communicate effectively and patiently in business dealings.”
Michael: With a rich history of travel and cultural diversity, you have been able to implement a lot of knowledge from your travels in daily life. What is Zenith’s vision and how do you keep staff motivated?
Lena Nasser: Zenith is like my second family. I genuinely care for all the individuals working there and know there’s a sense of loyalty on a human level not just as work comrades. It’s always made the most sense to share my worldly experience and expertise with Zenith. I have been there during tough decisions of strategizing sales and purchases and continue to be a pillar of support through any difficult decision making. I’ve always come back to the company as the people working there have stayed with the company for longer years than I have and genuinely have the company and my best interests at heart. My expertise is in management, and I appreciate the long term relationships my team has made with clients and tenants. Although it is a business, many of our tenants stay with us because of the value in these relationships. This factor keeps our own employees motivated because dealings go more smoothly when you maintain a good rapport. Even the top engineers pass on their knowledge to maintenance workers instead of just delegating. We have a great team in Texas and I would love to see the company expand to other cities in the US, most notably on the west coast as we have some current prospects. Our team is a group of highly motivated individuals and if we could replicate the same model in other cities, this would prove to be as effective.
Michael: Besides the addition to real estate within your company, what other interests do you have or wish to pursue?
Lena Nasser: My current experience in business dealings is invaluable and besides expanding the family portfolio I have an online consultancy business in a niche market. I have another in the works based on my patent filing which has been a long process so far but will connect eastern with western medicine in terms of healthcare and everyday wellbeing.
I’ve studied a multitude of eastern medicine from Ayurvedic practices, to allergy elimination, acupressure, herbal skincare, and hope to develop some products that embody a few of these to help people in everyday life. I am currently residing in L.A. and am interested in how environmental factors impact health and skin. More importantly I’ve been studying the importance of mental health and place it at the top of all these things. Environmental factors impact the body but taking care of mental health is key. I have helped many friends and clients in terms of vitamin supplementation and would love to go back to school to study more on the subject. As for now, I will be going to Asia in the next few weeks and am looking to engage with some more charities as although I’m in the business to make money, giving back and investing into someone else’s future proves to be more rewarding.”
Lena Nasser has an extensive resume in terms of traveling and work experience.
We are glad to have her interviewed on this portal.
Thank you, Lena Nasser, for your time. This was quite intriguing and rewarding.